Ferrari: Electrifying a Legendary Italian Brand
Close to a decade ago, Ferrari unveiled its first hybrid car – the seven-figure LaFerrari hypercar had a powerful V12 engine augmented by electric power to produce 1,000 horsepower. The company’s first plug-in hybrid quickly became a dream car for a whole generation of car enthusiasts. Since then, the company has unveiled two more plug-in hybrid models, the SF90 and the 296. The two models have received critical acclaim, as you’d expect of any Ferrari, but they have also been sales successes. So much so that, in the third quarter of 2023, Ferrari sold more plug-in hybrids than it did conventional gasoline-powered cars.
Indeed, according to a report in the Financial Times, a record 51 percent of Ferraris sold between July and September 2023 had a hybrid powertrain – a significant jump from 43 percent as recently as March to June 2023. A year ago, less than 20 percent of the vehicles Ferrari sold globally were hybrids. This is despite the fact that Ferrari recently launched the Purosangue, its first four-door, all-wheel drive crossover, which only features a gasoline V12.
Ferrari’s hybrid sales success is indicative of two things: first, that the company’s loyal, wealthy customers are embracing electrification as strongly as the company is; and that second, the company is currently building a lot of hybrids in its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and meet ever-more-stringent European emissions standards. The SF90 and 296, which are both powerful, mid-engine supercars, represent the current Ferrari state of the art, most closely related in layout and concept to the company’s Formula 1 race cars.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes these two cars so appealing.
Ferrari 296 Plug-In Hybrid
The Ferrari 296 GTB coupe and 296 GTS convertible are the latest in a long line of mid-engine, two-seater Ferrari sports cars, a line started back in the 1970s, but which includes the Magnum P.I. Ferrari 328, the 348, 355, 360, 430, 458, 488, and most recently, the F8 Tributo. But while its layout may be familiar, and while its design may reference some of the great Ferrari sports-racing cars of the past, technically, it is nothing short of a revolution.
Indeed, instead of being powered by a screaming, powerful, naturally-aspirated V8, the 296 models use a brand-new 120-degree turbocharge V6 engine coupled with an electric motor with plug-in hybrid capability. Despite having fewer cylinders than all previous models, it produces more power – 830 hp to be precise – along with a level of immediacy and responsiveness that make it even more exciting to drive.
What’s most impressive about the plug-in hybrid concept is that it makes the latest Ferrari emotional in everyday driving as well as when being pushed to its limits. Using lessons learned from Formula 1, the electric motor drives the rear wheels and itself produces close to 170 hp, making all-electric, zero-emissions driving in the city easy and responsive. Even without the powerful gasoline engine engaged, the 296 is as fast as many quick hatchbacks and low-end sports cars. All-electric range is about 16 miles from the 7.4-kWh lithium-ion battery, enough for many daily commutes – or enough to leave your enclave for the open road on a Sunday morning without waking up the neighbors. The electric motor uses an axial flux concept, with two rotors each having a single stator; its compact size allows for the overall size of the drivetrain to be reduced.
Other technical highlights of the Ferrari 296 include an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox which offers tightly-spaced gears for impressive acceleration, while also allowing drivers to cruise economically on the freeway. A Transition Manager Actuator (TMA) lets the car switch very rapidly from electric to hybrid to gasoline power, guaranteeing that drivers experience a smooth, progressive driving feeling. Most importantly for Ferrari fans, the 296 still sounds fantastic. The engine’s redline is an impressive 8,500 rpm, and careful tuning of the exhaust means that it still sings that distinctive Ferrari song.
The 296 GTS creates an even more intense driving experience once its retractable hardtop is stowed, exposing the driver and passenger to the elements. Both it and the 296 GTB coupe are available with an Assetto Fiorano package, which includes even more lightweight components and aerodynamic modifications. Estimated starting MSRP for the coupe is approximately $340,000.
Ferrari SF90 Stradale and Spider
Sitting above the 296 in Ferrari’s lineup is the SF90, which is available in Stradale (coupe) and Spider (convertible) formats. The company’s most high-end technological showcase, it is priced accordingly, with a starting MSRP of over $520,000. For that you get Ferrari’s most digital supercar, one that sets new benchmarks for technical innovation, performance, and driving excitement.
Like the 296 models, the SF90 is also a plug-in hybrid, but in this case, it combines a turbocharged, 780-hp V8 with three electric motors. With two motors on the front axle, and one integrated into the transmission at the rear of the car, maximum power output is over 1,000 hp, deployed to all four wheels for maximum traction. The state-of-the-art drivetrain is easily controlled using a steering-wheel mounted drive system controller, allowing drivers to switch between fully electric, hybrid, performance, and single-lap “qualifying” modes. 0-60 mph takes just 2.5 seconds, and 0-124 mph takes just 7.0 seconds.
In addition to the all-wheel drive, Ferrari’s engineers also developed a new electronic dynamic control system, which constantly monitors the car’s dynamic status in real time. The system can then independently adjust the two front electric motors to control the car’s cornering attitude, and significantly improve traction coming out of corners, making the SF90 simpler and more intuitive to drive with confidence.
The SF90 also features very high-tech aerodynamics. Detailed development in Ferrari’s own wind tunnel has resulted in a clean, sculpted body that generates about 1,000 pounds of downforce at 155 mph, helping suck the SF90 to the road and keep it stable and easy to drive – all without huge wings and aerodynamic appendages. Electronically-adjustable flaps and vents on the underside of the body automatically adjust based on the driving conditions.
Inside, there’s a new 16-inch digital instrument cluster on a curved high-resolution screen, which drivers can configure and control using the steering wheel. On the central tunnel, new digital controls for the eight-speed paddle shift gearbox reference the open gearshift gate from Ferraris of the past.
Like the 296, The SF90 is available both as a closed-top coupe and a convertible with a retractable hardtop, which keeps noise and the elements out when it’s in place. Simple and light, the hardtop folds into its own little trunk and requires very little space – and is about 100 pounds lighter than conventional retractable hardtops. A power rear window lets you open the car up to the outside world without dropping the top.
Ferrari’s Electrified Future
So, does the rise of plug-in hybrids at Ferrari mean the end of the internal combustion engine? Not quite yet. Production of the Purosangue SUV has only started to ramp up – and, so far, it’s only available in gasoline form; Ferrari anticipates that model will eventually make up about a quarter of its sales, tipping the balance back in favor of non-hybrids.
On the other hand, there’s no doubt that a plug-in hybrid Purosangue will happen at some point, and Ferrari has also confirmed that its first fully-electric vehicle will be launching in 2025. 40 percent of the company’s lineup will be battery-powered by 2030. One thing is for sure – contrary to what enthusiasts may have been worried about, electrification will make Ferraris even faster and more exciting than ever.